Electronic health records
Alberta to create patient eHealth
EDMONTON – Alberta plans to become
the first province in Canada to allow consumers to access their own
health record, with a web portal for this purpose that’s expected to be
up and running within a few months.
According to the Globe and Mail newspaper, the Alberta government will
start slowly at first, offering a limited amount of information, such as
vaccination records. But the ultimate goal is to post everything,
including prescriptions, X-rays and laboratory test results.
Mark Brisson, executive director of information management for Alberta
Health, said the budget for the web portal is still being finalized. The
site is expected to also include educational information on various
topics, including nutrition.
He said Alberta spent months researching whether residents of the
debt-free province would even want or use the technology. “Anecdotally,
you hear, ‘I’d like to see my health information,’ but really, is that
the case? These are not inexpensive exercises to put out that type of
Currently, if people in Alberta want to see their personal medical
information, they must make a formal request with their healthcare
provider. Mr. Brisson said addressing security and privacy concerns will
be paramount as the province builds the new e-health service. He’s
hopeful that “an incremental approach” will not only build up confidence
but also usage.
Brisson said Alberta is in a position to take this step because it’s
already put the infrastructure in place with Alberta Wellnet, an
overarching electronic health record system that is fed information from
hospitals and other care-givers around the province.
Other provinces have similar efforts under way, but none is a far along
as Alberta. The projects are massive undertakings, in terms of technical
requirements, the cooperation that’s required, and the governance issues
that go along with them.
While most hospitals now have electronic systems, getting the myriad
systems to interchange information in a meaningful way can be
challenging. Moreover, the vast majority of primary care physicians are
still using paper charts – according to recent studies, only 26% of
Canadian physicians have an EMR, and fewer actually make regular use of
As a result, most patient records are inaccessible even to their
caregivers, as the records are scattered about various offices, either
in paper charts or incompatible electronic formats.
Trevor Hodge, senior vice-president of Canada Health Infoway, said
Alberta is ready to make patient records more accessible because it
started a lot earlier than most provinces and has a well-funded system.
He added that the government’s decision to go slowly on the patient
portal is a sound one.“It’s not going to be something where you just
turn on a switch and everything will happen. It’s an evolution that’s
While Alberta will be the first province to offer personal health
information online, there are some hospitals across the country that
allow patients to access their electronic medical records. Sunnybrook
Health Sciences Centre, in Toronto, is a pioneer in this area with a
system called MyChart.
Ontario also recently announced a plan to set up a $150-million online
diabetes registry to help patients better manage their disease.
Mr. Hodge said it’s inevitable that all Canadians will one day be able
to sit at a computer and view their personal health information. The
e-service will be particularly helpful for people with chronic
conditions, he added. “It won’t be that 30 million Canadians will want
to access it every day, but there is a good sub-segment of the
population who will.”